Study Guide

The Glass Menagerie Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

By Tennessee Williams

Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

I am the narrator of the play, and also a character in it. The other characters are my mother, Amanda, and my sister, Laura, and a gentlemen caller who appears in the final scenes. He is the most realistic character in the play, being an emissary from a world of reality that we were somehow set apart from. But since I have a poet's weakness for symbols, I am using this character as a symbol; he is the long-delayed but always expected something that we live for. (1.1, Tom).

Tom understands that Jim is more than just a gentleman caller; he is the epitome of everything Amanda desires for her daughter.

"What are we going to do, what is going to become of us, what is the future?" (2.10, Amanda).

Amanda oscillates between reminiscing over the past and planning for the future.

"Oh! I felt so weak I could barely keep on my feet! I had to sit down while they got me a glass of water! Fifty dollars’ tuition, all of our plans – my hopes and ambitions for you – just gone up the spout, just gone up the spout like that." (2.16, Amanda).

Amanda’s plans for her children’s futures fail because they are irreconcilable with what her children actually want.

"So what are we going to do the rest of our lives? Stay home and watch the parades go by? Amuse ourselves with the glass menagerie, darling? Eternally play those worn-out phonograph records your father left as a painful reminder of him? We won’t have a business career – we’ve given that up because it gave us nervous indigestion! [She laughs wearily.] What is there left but dependency all our lives? I know so well what becomes of unmarried woman who aren’t prepared to occupy a position. I’ve seen such pitiful cases in the South – barely tolerated spinsters living upon the grudging patronage of sister’s husband or brother’s wife! – stuck away in some little mousetrap of a room – encouraged by one in-law to visit another – little birdlike women without any nest – eating the crust of humility all their life!

Is that the future that we’ve mapped out for ourselves? I swear it’s the only alternative I can think of! [She pauses.] It isn’t a very pleasant alternative, is it? [She pauses again.] Of course – some girls do marry." (2.34, Amanda).

Amanda’s attempts to have Laura marry are based on a fear of the future, not on any intrinsic value of love.

"An evening at home rarely passed without some illusion to this image, this specter, this hope…Even when he wasn’t mentioned, his presence hung in Mother’s preoccupied look and in my sister’s frightened, apologetic manner – hung like a sentence passed upon the Wingfields!" (3.1, Tom).

The language Tom uses to describe the gentleman caller is reminiscent of the effect on the audience of the hanging portrait – thus, the gentleman is for the future what Tom’s father is for the past.

[screen legend: "Plans and Provisions."]

"We have to be making some plans and provisions for her. She's older than you, two years, and nothing has happened. She just drifts along doing nothing. It frightens me terribly how she just drifts along." (Scene Four stage directions, 4.87, Amanda).

Amanda’s concern over the future always revolves around her children, not herself.

"Down at the warehouse, aren't there-nice young men?" (4.97, Amanda).

Amanda places on Tom not only the burden of supporting the family in the present, but also of taking care of its future.

"I’ll tell you what I wished for on the moon. Success and happiness for my precious children! I wish for that whenever there’s a moon, and when there isn’t a moon, I wish for it, too." (5.23, Amanda).

Amanda chastises Tom for being a ‘selfish dreamer,’ yet her own dreams for the future are even less attainable.

"Yes, but Mr. O’Connor is not a family man."

"He might be, mightn’t he? Some time in the future?"

"I see. Plans and provisions." (5.92-5.54. Tom and Amanda).

Amanda draws elaborate plans for the future, even including a man she has never met.

"You are the only young man I know of who ignores the fact that the future becomes present, the present past, and the past turns into everlasting regret if you don’t plan for it!" (5.95, Amanda).

Although Amanda discloses nuggets of perspective on the progression of time, she herself spends all of her time oscillating between the past and the future.

"Then he has visions of being advanced in the world! Any young man who studies public speaking is aiming to have an executive job some day! And radio engineering? A thing for the future! Both of these facts are very illuminating. Those are the sort of things that a mother should know concerning any young man who comes to call on her daughter. Seriously or—not." (5.117, Amanda).

Amanda makes grand claims about the future using very little fact or evidence from the present.

"What shall I wish for, Mother?"

[her voice trembling and her eyes suddenly filling with tears]: "Happiness! Good fortune!" (5.140, 5.141, Laura, Amanda).

Amanda chastises Tom for being a ‘selfish dreamer,’ yet her own dreams take on a dream-like and superstitious quality almost foolish in nature.

"But sister is all by her lonesome. You go keep her company in the parlor! I’ll give you this lovely old candelabrum that used to be on the altar at the Church of the Heavenly Rest." (7.34, Amanda).

Amanda shamelessly takes action towards her plan for she and Laura’s future.

"Well, it was quite a wonderful exposition. What impressed me most was the Hall of Science. Gives you an idea of what the future will be in America, even more wonderful than the present time is!" (7.67, Jim).

Jim’s idealism toward the future reflects the American Dream of progress and growth.

"You think of yourself as having the only problems, as being the only one who is disappointed. But just look around you and you will see lots of people as disappointed as you are. For instance, I hoped when I was going to high school that I would be further along this time, six years later, than I am now." (7.76, Jim).

Jim, like Amanda, discusses the past, but in a more instructive and beneficial way.

"My signature isn’t worth very much right now. But some day—maybe—it will increase in value! Being disappointed is one thing and being discouraged is something else. I am disappointed but I am not discouraged." (7.158, Jim).

Jim’s idealism toward the future reflects the American Dream of progress and growth.

"Because I believe in the future of television! I wish to be ready to go up right along with it. Therefore I’m planning to get in on the ground floor. In fact I’ve already made the right connections and all that remains is for the industry itself to get under way! Full steam…Knowledge—Zzzzzp! Money—Zzzzzzp!—Power! That’s the cycle democracy is built on!" (7.192, Jim).

Jim’s idealism toward the future reflects the American Dream of progress and growth.

"Well, now that you’ve found your way, I want you to be a very frequent caller! Not just occasional but all the time. Oh, we’re going to have a lot of gay times together! I see them coming!" (7.282, Amanda).

Amanda’s character is made more tragic by her unfounded optimism.

"GO, then! Go to the moon-you selfish dreamer!" (7.320, Amanda).

While she chastises Tom for being a dreamer, Amanda doesn’t recognize that her own plans for the future have become mere dreams.